This message is for you, corporate executive, business leader or family member of a small-business owner. As a keyboard warrior, you’ve heard it 1,000 times: Take a beat before you post, and make sure you want to be public in this manner and with this message.
In the past few months, our firm has been called in to address several “social media crises” related to inappropriate or offensive posting. Someone saw a meme and posted it because they thought it was funny, without thinking of the consequences or recognizing the subtle hate behind it. They did not stop to think of what groups would view it as harmful. Someone let emotions get in front of rational thinking and posted a rant that later would offend many.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these stories taking place across the US every day.
And although perhaps it shouldn’t need to be said again, I will say it again: Nothing you post on social media truly disappears. Nothing you delete really goes away. Once you post it, it is highly likely it will be there for life, whether through a screenshot, a share, or a retweet.
Now more than ever, the ability to curtail your quick-to-post instinct, and that of others who are leaders or representatives of your business, needs to be enforced. Too often, these posts directly conflict with the values or stated public positions of the organization represented by the poster — and that swiftly spells trouble.
Before you post, park it in your saved drafts and take a walk. Ask yourself questions like these:
- Would I say this in front of my customers?
- Will my employees disagree or be offended?
- Does the content and tone align with the values of our company?
- Is it the right thing to say and do?
For example, consider whether it is wise to share posts that suggest the coronavirus is a hoax, posts that attack Black Lives Matter or a presidential candidate, or posts that denounce protests against racial inequality or portray an image of racism.
The bottom line: Any post that at face value is insensitive to a vulnerable population right now or to the public’s conflicted feelings about major social issues is an unnecessary and inappropriate risk.
Why does this matter? Because insensitive posts put your company, your family, your employees and, indeed, the very livelihood of your business at risk. The cost of recovery — both financial and reputational — is too high for many companies. As business leaders, this is a critical reminder not just for you, but for your team, as well.
The “I just didn’t realize” is not a good defense. Honest mistakes can have the same negative impact as established patterns of poor judgment and posting behavior. While recovery from an honest mistake may be swifter, it doesn’t negate the potential reputational harm. And, once someone in a company’s circle has posted a racist, offensive or insensitive social comment, others will go looking to look for patterns of similar controversial content, previous lapses in doing what’s right and other problems within your business or organization.
It is important to note, this is not to suggest that companies and individuals shouldn’t stand up for what they believe matters. That said, however, be very clear that the positions you’re taking represent the values and positions of your company, your employees, your customers, your shareholders and others. If not, that inconsistency can lead to a different kind of crisis – a crisis of values.
If you’re a business leader or someone close to a business leader, or if you hold a leadership role within an organization, assume that there are folks watching. Remember that, by default or by relationship, you are a representative of that business.
And yes, you are held to a higher standard. Whether it is on your personal platform is irrelevant. It will be seen, it will be shared, and you — as a leader and as a participant in our society — will be evaluated with that lens.
It’s a frustrating time for all of us, emotions are high, and the diversity of opinions is great. The desire to be reactionary on social media and assume a little “keyboard courage” is tempting, but you must resist. Don’t let your opinions or the heat of the moment play out in a public platform unless they are firmly aligned with where you stand as a business. Pause before you post.
Hinda Mitchell is the founder of Inspire PR Group, a full-service public relations and digital firm headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. With more than 25 years of experience guiding C-suite leaders in diverse business sectors, Mitchell is a sought-after expert in crisis management and response, executive counsel and communications strategy. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter or LinkedIn.